DIY Car Body Work and Repainting

Updated on January 12, 2020
Charles Emerenwa profile image

Brian knows a lot about less-than-perfect cars and how to care for them.

Repainting Your Car: Before and After


This ‘Do-It-Yourself’ article is about how to touch up and repaint your car. When you set out to touch up the scratches, remove rust, and perform a paint job, remember that the result will reflect the thoroughness and effort you put into each stage of the job.

This series of step-by-step tasks, when followed to the dot, will produce impressive quality bodywork and a paint job that looks fantastic. Even if you do not do bodywork and painting yourself, reading this will at the very least let you know what to expect if you send your car to a workshop for this purpose.

Tools You Need for Bodywork and Painting

Before you start, make sure you have the following tools available.

Variable Speed Random Orbit Sander. An orbit sander will make sanding much easier. It saves you tons of time with basic sanding and body filler shaping.

Air Compressor. This device is perfect for painting cars and also will power all of your air tools with ease. It is a workhorse you should have when you are considering painting your car.

Stud Welder / Slide Hammer. These tools are must-have tools for repairing some types of dents and pulling out panels. A slide hammer uses screws or hook adapters to pull out dents.

Sanding blocks. Sanding blocks are used for sanding, buffing, and shaping body filler.

Putty knives or Bondo spreaders. These are used to mix body filler. You can get them in metal or plastic form.

8 Steps to Bodywork, Touching Up, and Painting Your Car

If you desire smooth and flawless results that last, here are the steps to follow.

1. Pull Out and Sand the Damaged Areas

If the car you are working on is heavily dented, you will need a dent repair kit. The first thing you will need to do is to smooth the dents as much as possible.

Next, you will need to remove all traces of rust completely while straightening the sheet. Any trace of rust will ruin the repainting job as the rust will return to attack the particular area and spoil the paint job.

You may utilize an 80-grit sanding disc to smooth the surface you wish to work on. An orbital sander saves time.

DEWALT Random Orbit Sander, 5-Inch (DWE6423K)
DEWALT Random Orbit Sander, 5-Inch (DWE6423K)
The DEWALT Orbit Sander's ergonomic design and short height make it easy to use on different parts of the car.

2. Degrease

This process requires a sticky cotton rag with wax and grease remover to wipe down and clean the panels. Any surface that will be painted needs to be cleaned thoroughly to remove any traces of wax, silicone, grease or oil.

A possible alternative is a glass cleaner like Windex, but I strongly recommend washing the entire car first and then applying wax and grease remover.

3. Apply Body Filler and Sand It

Once the surface of the vehicle has been sanded, you may proceed to apply body fillers to the spot. Fill only within the bare sanded metal area. Smooth mixing and application will help eliminate any pinholes.

Modern body fillers adhere well to just about any surface. You may use a plastic or metal scraper to apply the filler and let it dry.

Once the filler dries, you may start to sand the surface to smoothen it. Make sure to sand until there is no visible gloss or seams remaining. The purpose of sanding is to level the filler surface and improve surface finish. Degrease the surface by wiping it down using a rag to remove any traces of dirt and debris from the sanding.

4. Apply Primer

Before spray painting, you may want to move your vehicle outside or park it on top of a drop cloth to prevent making a mess in your work area.

Before you spray on the primer, you need to cover the areas adjacent to the painting surface with newspaper or plastic sheeting and use strips of low-adhesive masking tape to secure the edges.

The purpose of this preparation is to avoid messing up areas you don't want painted. Strategic taping will keep you from having over-spraying issues. For example, if you are working on the back panels of your car, make sure the rear wheel, trunk, and windows are all covered up.

5. Sand the Primer, Apply Finishing Putty, Apply Second Primer

Once the primer is applied, allow it to dry. Next, sand the filler primer with a 320 grit sanding disk and apply finishing putty. Let the putty set and sand it smooth before applying the second primer.

6. Clean the Car

Make sure to clean the car before you spray paint it. Prepare a mix of alcohol and vinegar to wash the entire body of the car. Make sure there is no debris or dust from the sanding left on the vehicle body.

You do this cleaning to ensure that the paint will coat the car thoroughly and smoothly. To gauge whether you have done a good job, run your fingers over the bodywork and make sure there is no roughness present.

7. Mix the Paint and Start Spray Painting

Select your paint. To have the best outcome, you will need a double coat of paint. You will not use the paint full strength but instead dilute it first with thinner.

Make sure that adjacent parts are covered properly before you start spray painting the area you want to paint.

For a good paint job, use a high-quality spray gun. Once you apply the first layer of paint, allow it to dry before applying the next layer. Usually, the base coat dries quickly and the drying time between two coats is about 10 minutes.

Once the two coats are complete, it is time to follow-up with a clear coat. Clean the spray valve thoroughly before you start on the clear coat spraying. Apply three layers of clear coat, allowing 15 to 20 minutes between layers to dry so that the solvents evaporate. To avoid sagging, don't make the layers too thick.

8. Wet-Sanding and then Polish

The final stage is wet sanding and polishing.

Clear coat sanding can be done with a 600w orbital buffer. Wet the disk and the surface before sanding. Make sure that you only use a medium rotation speed for this purpose. Excessive speed will increase the risk of piercing the clear coat.

Rinse off with water then continue to wet sand with a 1500 grit abrasive disc, followed by the use of a 2500 grit abrasive disc. Continue until you achieve a perfectly uniform surface.

In order to return the glossy shine to the clear coat, you have to polish and then wax the area. The perfect choice for this purpose would be a compound polish with strong abrasive properties. Be sure to use a hard buffer to apply the polish.

Finally, use an all-purpose waffle foam to give a finishing polish to limit the effect of swirl marks. You may also use a paint renovator like Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound to polish the car to give it a more brilliant shine.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      14 months ago from UK

      Amazing finish and a very detailed step by step guide. I touched up my daughter's car a few years ago after a few minor bumps. They are hardly noticeable now, probably in part due to the fact that she never cleans her car. But the finish I achieved was nothing like as good as the one you show.


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